Welcome Guest Janalyn Voigt

Top 10 Surprising Facts

About the Old West

Like most authors, I have an inquisitive nature. Maybe that’s why I gravitated toward writing western historical fiction. With so much lovely research to do, who could resist? A trove of little-known facts became my reward. I’m here to share some of the jewels I found with you.

Wild camels roamed the plains. The United States Camel Corps formed to help occupy desert tracts following the Mexican-American War. The first camels arrived in spring, 1856. Completion of the railroad ended the program., however The government sold some of the camels, but others escaped into the wild. The last encounter with a feral camel in America was confirmed in 1941, but unofficial sightings continue into modern times.

Credit: Courtesy of annca at pixabay.com

Everyone did not pack a gun. Guns came at a high price some couldn’t afford. Also, individual towns (including Dodge, Deadwood, and Tombstone) banned firearms.

Dance hall girls weren’t necessarily prostitutes. A lonely man would pay for the privilege of dancing with a woman. Some dance hall girls entertained men upstairs, but others simply danced.

Most men didn’t wear Stetsons. The ‘hat that won the West’ was the bowler (or derby). The iconic Stetson wasn’t introduced until 1865 and cost a lot more. The bowler predominated.

Credit: Courtesy of skeeze at pixabay.com

Buffalo never existed in the West. Settlers incorrectly referred to bison as ‘buffalo’ because they resembled the African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo. American bison are a different species.

Indians were civilized. Native Americans engaged in agriculture, developed irrigation systems, traded with one another, and built cities. They were a far cry from ‘savages.’

A disaster few remember took more lives than the Titanic’s sinking. The steamboat Sultana went down in 1865 while overloaded with prisoners freed from a Confederate prison. More than 1,800 people died, a greater number than the 1,517 lost in the Titanic disaster. News related to the assassination of President Lincoln overshadowed the worst maritime disaster in U.S history. Few remember the ‘Titanic of the Mississippi’ today.

Men wore denim. Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss patented the first rivet-strengthened denim pants in 1871. Work clothes made from denim cloth had existed before that date.


Whiskey contained poisons. Called such things as tanglelegs, forty rod, coffin varnish, and strychnine, rotgut whiskey sold in the Wild West might include turpentine, ammonia, gunpowder, or other toxic ingredients.

Montana had a gold rush. Lesser known than the 49ers of California and sourdoughs of Alaska, Montana miners started stampeding for gold in 1862. I wrote the Montana Gold series to highlight this dramatic era in Montana history.


Hills of Nevermore

(Montana Gold, book 1)

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive?

In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.

Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Purchase Hills of Nevermore


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About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt’s lifelong love of storytelling began in childhood when she dreamed up her own bedtime stories. She grew into a precocious reader, a pastime she credits with teaching her to write. Janalyn trained formally with Christian Writers Guild. Today she is a multi-genre author and literary judge. Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary.

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20 thoughts on “Welcome Guest Janalyn Voigt”

  1. Janalyn- wow what an interesting article. I did not know a few if these, a couple I did know. I knew about the camels and the banned of firearms, and the stetson’s, but the sinking of the Sultana was a surprise. I knew Montana had gold and I’ve read about denim, but all the Poison in alcohol and hiwvthe buffalo got their name were both shocking. Thank you for all this info. Your book sounds amazing.

    • Hi, Tonya! Thanks for commenting. Isn’t the Old West fascinating? Learning new facts through my research is one of the main reasons I love writing about it.

  2. Very interesting. I’m wondering if the ignoring of the steamboat fatalities was also because of the passengers involved?

  3. Love the list! I did know most of them but the dancing girls and denim men weren’t in my knowledge bank. 🙂 Neat to know that being a saloon girl or dancing girl didn’t mean they always headed upstairs.

    • Thanks, Susan. I agree about the dancing girls. In particular, Hessian hurdy gurdy girls were brought to America by soul merchants who didn’t always treat them well. Some tried to force these girls, who had left their native land to ease the financial burden on their families, into prostitution. Stagecoach to Liberty, book three in the Montana Gold series, tells the story of one of these girls.

  4. One of the reasons I follow writer blogs is to find out about their research. It is so very interesting to read what is found and follow the links provided. I appreciate the research authors do and the resulting accuracy of time and place that results in their writing.
    Thanks for the interesting tidbits. It added detail to things I already knew and added a new one about the bowler.

  5. Interesting that the steamboat got little attention in this country since more lives were lost to greed. Thanks for posting.

    • Hi, Kim! We think of riding a steamboat as stately but doing so could be extremely dangerous. A steamboat might hit a hidden snag in the water, capsize, run aground on a sandbar, or explode from excessive boiler pressure. In 1849, the crew of the White Cloud didn’t completely extinguish a mattress fire, setting off the Great Fire of St Louis.

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